With a few years from the height of the pandemic, precious lessons on social protection responses keep pouring in. A case in point is Sierra Leone: a review by Sandford shows that while not a full-fledged “anticipatory” system, Sierra Leone’s initial 2020 pandemic response (ECT-1) was based on early “triggers” (in this case simply the emergency declaration and development of an operations manual). This activated fast disbursements of contingency financing which helped supporting about 30,000 low-income informal sector workers: it took less than a month from manual clearance to first payment! The paper also details a range of challenges from initial stages, including for example the use of data gathered in partnership with non-traditional actors (and the suspension of activities due to complains); the trade-offs from implementing the one-off exceptional cash transfer and the routine safety net simultaneously (including diversion of staff); and an array of interesting considerations around the use of quotas, lotteries, light assessments, vouchers, QR codes, and pay-points (in one case it involved 10k people at the stadium) (h/t Samik Adhikari).
More on the pandemic in Africa: Lastunen et al estimated the effects of tax-benefit responses to COVID-19 in seven African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia). Main takeaway: automatic stabilizers took mostly the form of tax measures for the top quartile of the distribution (see figure 3-4, p.7-8), while benefits for the lower-income households were limited (except in Zambia and Mozambique). The discontinuation of school meals programs, for instance, proved particularly impactful to the poorest in Ghana and Ethiopia.
Bonus: a short piece on COVID-19 responses by Basterra et al argued that social protection “… facilitated the inclusion of marginalised individuals in the formal sector”, but that “[f]or sustainable progress, it is imperative to address structural inequalities”.
A by paper by Das and Sethi compares preferences for cash and in-kind (PDS) assistance in two Indian districts of Odisha (Khordha and Mayurbhanj). Key finding? Preferences hinger on people’s profile and where they live. In general, survey results show that between 85-94% of respondents opted for food transfers. Who drives such preferences? Among the characteristics, age and gender had no effects, while illiteracy and primary education influenced preferences in favor of in-kind transfers; casual labourer also reported a strong preference for food transfers in Mayurbhanj. Yet as standard of living of tends to rise, people shift preferences towards cash transfers (see disaggregated results in table 2 and 3, p.8-9). But what factors tilted the actual preference for in-kind? Two stand out: transaction costs in terms of time (buying food on markets, visiting banks, or travel) and skepticism around cash transfers being effectively indexed to inflation. Note that participants named “remote market”, “unfamiliarity with cash-based system” and “remote bank” among key concerns, strengthening earlier literature findings that context matters for cash vs inkind preferences.
That’s not only from India: a VoxDev summary of previous research by Muralidharan et al found that upgrading NREGA public works wage payments via smartcards raised participants incomes by 14% and reduced poverty by 26%.
What’s happening next door? A study by Farjana et al explores the impact of CCTs on health outcomes of expectant mothers in southwestern rural Bangladesh. Main results? CCTs are positively and significantly associated with normal blood pressure and hemoglobin adequacy, as well as being a negative predictor of morning sickness.
This is one is a little controversial: can cash transfers increase fertility? In Pakistan, a new paper by Churchill et al finds that BISP increases fertility via (reduced) parental working hours and (better) child health — albeit effect size is small and builds over time.
Speaking of time… there is new evidence on medium-long terms effects of multilayered interventions: Bedoya et al document that a “graduation” program in Afghanistan ($15/month for a year, plus assets/livestock, plus other services) continued to have sustained effects 5 years after the package was provided.
News from Europe? In the Netherlands, Filomena and Picchio examine people’s behavior after losing their job: they found that unemployed individuals strengthen ties with family, spend more time with neighbors, and make wider use of social media. Bonus: Herault and Jenkin examine inequality trends in the UK over the past 44 years
Fast and furious! Music and David Evans have their yearly review of 130+ NEUDC microsummaries. Among them, Gordon et al argue that the allocation of aid for 2015 earthquake in Nepal would have been more welfare-enhancing if distributed equally between all households in affected areas instead of based on property damage (which excludes many liquidity-constrained households); and in Colombia, Alvarez et al found that beneficiaries of the Ingreso Solidario pandemic cash transfers were more likely to borrow from formal lenders instead of accessing predatory loans.
Before you go… Rahbari recounts Iran’s 2011 experience with universal basic income; Barca and O’Brien have a set of new visuals to illustrate four parameters in social protection (coverage, adequacy, comprehensiveness, quality); Igoe et al investigate the fate of a large USAID health supply chains investment in lower-income countries; and a technical seminar on social pensions in LAC is coming up on Nov 28.